Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Let’s be timely for once. I feel dirty just stooping to this, but we’ll do it anyway. Lots of you out there are wondering about this one, so here goes…
A few days back some now largely irrelevant and virtually obsolete ‘prophet’ announced this whisky as his ‘world whisky of the year’. If you were grabbing a few beer in a local pub and overheard some young ‘Crown and ginger’ types at an adjacent table make a comment like this you’d think ‘hyperbole’; a non-whisky geek who is simply enamoured with a new flavour. No harm, no foul. But let’s put this in context a little more. This self-proclaimed expert – with nearly unlimited access to ridiculous numbers of old and rare, sexy and special malts – has bypassed all of the heirs apparent and coronated this generic Canadian expression above all others. Really? Really? We’re to believe there weren’t dozens – or even hundreds – of better single malts…unique single casks…fabulous expression from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s…tropical fruit-rich bourbon barrel matured malts…stunning old sherry bombs…atrociously huge peat monsters…that crossed those lecherous old lips this year? No repeat winners from past logic-defying selections? What happened to the rise of Japanese whisky? Where’s the Ardbeg or Pulteney love? How ’bout taking the piss with another Ballantine’s award? But Crown Royal? Please. Now you’re just insulting us.
In the event you’re wondering if I shouldn’t just be pleased to see a dram from my home and native land scoring accolades and bringing attention to the Canadian whisky industry the simplest answer is: no. Ridiculous is ridiculous, irrespective of provenance. This is an ‘ok’ whisky. But unfortunately the reality is that Canadian whisky as a category is so far behind the world whisky movement that even the best examples are sort of like being the smartest idiot. Crown Royal is simply not on par with the best of Scotland, Japan, the US, India or even Ireland. This is like replacing the Stones with a local bar band and thinking people will still fill the stadium.
I hate to make this seem as though I’m ragging on Crown here. That’s not really the point. It’s a situational observation. Unless, of course, as has been speculated, some Benjamins traded hands in order to ratchet this one up a few points, in which case we certainly will rag on all involved. But we’ll assume not. Benefit of the doubt. It’s more likely the biblical blowhard simply needed a controversy to help propel sales of his book, which in recent times is about as relevant as VHS and cassette tapes.
At $35 (or thereabouts, if you can find it anymore) not a bad deal. Having said that…I’ve tried it. I can move on now.
Nose: Very soft nose. Rich in spices and smells like fresh-baked cinnamon buns. A little ginger. Much more refined than the standard Crown Royal. Toffee. Apple. More cinnamon. A touch of eucalyptus. Creme brulee. Wood is loud here. Dark jams. I like this nose quite a lot. I really wanted to reject it at first sniff, but I’ve gotta be honest. Fruitier and more down-home appeal than I expected.
Palate: Yep…it’s Canadian whisky. Huge letdown after the comfortable familiarity of the nose. Thicken this up a bit into a syrup and it would be great over ice cream, where the cream would temper the sharper woody notes. Too much wood spice (no, not just the typical rye spice, though there is that too). Some apple. Some orange oil. Far too biting and zippy for something that smells this soft. Thin and short on finish. I do think, though, that with another ten years in a very dead barrel this could be a stunner…if at cask strength.
Thoughts: So…what more should we say? Hmmm. Not bad, to be fair, but WWOTY? You have got to be kidding me. I think we’ll stop now. We’re just feeding the troll. He’s fat enough, I’d say. At least his fedora-hatted head, anyway.
– Images & Words: Curt
Earlier this year a tiny distillery with only it’s 20th barrel of whisky won best new Canadian whisky at the Canadian Whisky Awards. A well respected blind tasting. The winning whisky was hand crafted single cask 100% Rye. For a mass produced whisky (Northern Harvest) in any category to receive such high acclaim is highly suspect. In my experience it is impossible to make something truly special when you are churning out huge quantities.
Being an equal opportunity drinker and lover of rye I was firstly astounded at the news and then extremely curious. I have tasted the Northern Rye and was actually more dissapointed than I thought I would be. It is certainly a step up from corn soaked Crown Royal and the 90% rye content is good to see. I found it however to be rough around the edges, thin on flavour and not even on the radar in comparison to ryes that I drink on a regular basis. 97.5 points is as high a mark as Jim Murray has ever given I believe as I can’t really recall any 98 pointers. Regardless of personal taste and opinion there is no way possible that even a slightly improved offering should be Crowned whisky of the year.
My other concern earlier this year was the Alberta beverage awards that also gave Northern Harvest Best in Class. There are well respected people on that panel that I hold in high esteem. I was scratching my head at the time but was willing to hold my opinion until I tasted it. Leaves me feeling sad and a little dissolusioned.
I know that this has now become more than just a score for a certain whisky. Many around Canada are over the moon that Canada has this recognition and are world beaters. If it were an offering from any of the craft distillers or even an amazing special edition from Gimli then I could get behind it more. It would still need to be really really good. Bottom line is that Northern Harvest is ok and could help to move people away from the over sweet Crown onto a path that may eventually make real whisky fans out of them. I for one won’t be drinking it even at the price. There are way too many other stunning whiskies and ryes on offer.
I may yet wade into the debate with a blog of my own but for now with Christmas looming I have tons to write about.
Thanks Curt for your opinion, interesting as always.
This line speaks volumes: “There are way too many other stunning whiskies and ryes on offer.”
Thanks, Jonathan. We need to have a drink soon. Let’s get you over for one or three.
I have not had this yet. The problem with most Canadian whisky, even Forty Creek, is that I’m rarely in the mood for it when I have CS bourbons, Amrut and Scotch available. Bit a friend has offered me a sample of his (he likes it) to try. And that should be plenty for me.
I cannot imagine any Canadian whisky being better than a CS single malt from Amrut, or Booker’s, or The BTAC collection. Sorry, not happening.
“…largely irrelevant and virtually obsolete ‘prophet’…” sums it up nicely, Curt. This is the same loon who thinks Ballantine’s Fiinest is a 96 pointer in his 2013 bible, which is the last one I ever bought. One has to assume that he scores blends relative to each other and not against single malts. Otherwise, it would be difficult to understand how Ballantine’s Finest could outscore Lagavulin 16. Even if it’s blends vs blends and single malts vs single malts, it seems that BF is 3 points better than Great King Street Artists’ Blend and AnCnoc 12 is better than Laphroaig 18. And now, as you say, this Crown Royal is better than anything. It’s both laughable and sad.
I think the sun is rapidly setting on the reign of King James and his version of a bible.
All very good comments and I have no doubt that that the review is very fair. The fabric at the center of the whisky bible’s myth making may well finally be fraying with this pick; too many people can both find and afford to buy this one and find a close competitor for it (or just a better whisky) by reaching toward the shelf and choosing blind. The lack of winning repeats in many categories (even by brand), let alone the top one, shows a similar type of arbitrary selection on the part of the author. For his trouble, Murray is very well compensated for his choices, if only indirectly, in the form of controversy, publicity and increased book sales. The need for a really good book along these lines is obvious; it’s too bad someone hasn’t written one.
In making this pick, it’s almost as if Murray has changed his tone and target audience, from preaching against whisky orthodoxy to the conventional masses, to now trying to start his own separate whisky religion by recruiting people who haven’t actually consumed whisky before. Like many marketers before him, he’s now confused shaping opinion with creating reality.
The Whisky Sponge also did a very good piece looking at the larger phenomenon of Jim Murray and the Whisky Bible: (http://whiskysponge.com/2015/11/23/settling-the-score/#comments).
Read the whisky sponge piece a few days ago and loved it. If you look at the “latest news” pieces on Jim Murray you might also come close to actually pissing your pants laughing.
Sponge has a great sense of humor
You know something ain’t right when the Sponge gets serious.
I’m going to stick up for Jim here. I think anyone who has ever read the Bible and his philosophy knows he doesn’t take money for reviews. Even the way he acquires most of his whisky is above board. In fact his opinions have invariably lost him money and sales. The big money in whisky is in Scotch and he has not done himself any favours there.
Last year he proclaimed a Japanese whisky ‘World Whisky of the Year’ and I think he was absolutely right. The Japanese are making whisky on another level right now and his accolade gave credit where it was due. I find it very hard to disagree with Murray on many of his ratings and rarely find myself in disagreement. I’m also with him on Ballantine’s 17, which I think is a superb blend and on Jamesons. Shoot me now! Jim has raised the profile of the art of the blend, back to where it should be. It’s for the rest of us to argue whether his choices are right or wrong.
This year, perhaps even more controversially it’s gone to Crown Royal. I’ve never had it, so can’t offer a judgement on that.
Ultimately he is just an opinion, that’s all. It sets up a debate. One thing he has done brilliantly is challenge the hierarchy of whisky and in particulary the notion that the greater the age statement and price the greater the whisky. Most of us know this to be tosh anyway, but it’s great to see a guy not afraid to stick his neck out about what he likes.
In the end I think it has been great for whisky. He’s helped shatter the glass ceiling that wrongly kept Scotch in a privileged position over the growing, thriving world whisky scene.
Wow. Good for you, man. What flavour was that Kool-Aid?
It wouldn’t be a whiskey discussion without a little condescension and snobbery, folks.
Ed: Great post. I agree with most of what you said.
Right, we wouldn’t want to have any “condescension and snobbery” in a discussion about a guy to claims to be THE independent authority on whisky, writing the gospel about whisky, and who has Black Grouse standing tall over Blue Label and Ballantine’s 17 equal in quality to any whisky ever known. That would be wrong.
The big money for Jim IS in controversy, not scotch – particularly if he doesn’t take gratuities anyway; he’s interested in sales, and the more buzz the better. I’d be interested in hearing the argument that his approach has “invariably lost him money and sales” among his target audience, primarily the whisky neophyte.
I don’t object to Murray having his own opinion, or stating it, but in having opinions that show little consistency in what is being lauded/criticized. On blends, I didn’t have to go much farther than JW Red Label being an 87.5, JW Blue Label being an 88 and Black Grouse being a 94 to be completely baffled as to what was being assessed as the characteristics of a good blend – the guy’s scoring is impossible, and useless, to handicap because it doesn’t always seem to come from the same critic with the same amount of whisky experience.
What’s more, “setting up debate” shouldn’t BE the purpose of the Whisky Bible – for its money to actually BE earned, it should be the internally consistent and the authoritative text it claims to be. After all, it WAS written by the self-proclaimed “colossus of whisky”, compared to the poor hapless late Michael Jackson, who only knew something about beer. By the same token, challenging whisky orthodoxy, or promoting “the world whisky scene” simply for its own sake shouldn’t be the mission statement of the work either. It is admittedly often difficult to tell just what Murray IS trying to accomplish, both in terms of his own, or somebody else’s, marketing goals, but the larger point is that the book shouldn’t be about serving agendas so much as consistently rating whisky to help consumers with their purchasing.
On the flip side of things, there is an argument that Jim Murray is the Eric von Stroheim of whisky critics – “the man you love to hate” – and that, in taking a lot of heat from the whisky community, he’s actually served to shield a lot of whisky experts from valid criticism. MAO makes the case here: http://myannoyingopinions.com/2014/11/07/jim-murray/
I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it could easily one of the best things written on the topic of Jim Murray.
Your expectations for consistency are impossible in a world where every bottle, every cask, every batch of blend can produce a different result.
One thing I can guarantee. Jim Murray drinks more whisky, and has more experience than anyone posting here, and 99.9% of bloggers. He has been tasting for the Bible for over a decade. It’s his full time job. He has had more bottles of the same whisky from the same producer, many times over. Something most of us have not even come close to. You refer to blends you’ve tasted and his lack of consistency. How many times have you tasted those different bottles or brands? And I’m not talking about ordering in a bar. I’m talking about tasting it, in formal controlled conditions or where you’ve had a bottle to return to, time and again over the past couple of decades. Not enough to express a consistency I suspect.
Jim Murray’s Bible will have faults. Because of the very nature of differing human palates and the huge variability involved in whisky production. Anyone who produces a book rating whisky is going to be subject to this problem and therefore open to attack on blogs like these, where people can pick holes. But in my opinion he is doing as good a job as possible, in a world where perfection and consistency of scoring is impossible.
To summarise: any amateur can pick holes in a man rating thousands of whiskys over a couple of decades or more. If you are opposed to the concept of a whisky rating book then fine. I can respect that position. Because there are fundamental flaws in trying to do that with whisky. But if you are picking holes or suggesting you could do a better, more consistent job of rating several thousand whiskys over and over again? Sorry, I don’t buy it.
How many times have I tried the three whiskies I mentioned? Probably no more than three with the bad ones (I HAD my own bottle of Black Grouse, but I poured it out) and maybe seven or eight with Blue Label, but to say that Murray, through his greater experience, is the holder of some greater insight into which of the three is the best (and by a wide margin) is pure fantasy. Do you personally hold that the two JW products are really neck and neck and that Black Grouse blows their doors off as the 90-class product of the three?
Furthermore, if “expectations for consistency are impossible in a world where every bottle, every cask, every batch of blend can produce a different result” is actually true, then that negates any advantage Murray supposedly has as a professional reviewer. The wild variation though lack of quality control that you’re describing would make rating whisky at all a useless gesture if variations were actually that extreme and odds are that everybody is essentially drinking a different whisky with every bottle they buy anyway. Or is the idea that Murray has tasted all the good batches that everyone missed and that’s what he rates? It would explain at a lot. If what you’re describing in terms of batch variation is true, however, it’s almost inconceivable that even Jim Murray has missed this issue of “huge variability involved in whisky production”, given how many batches he’s supposedly tried and that he can find ruinous levels of sulphur where the rest of the world cannot,
Not holding Jim Murray in high regard and not liking the idea of a whisky guide are two different things, and the consistency I’m talking about is internal consistency in terms of what characteristics a reviewer values compared to ones they discount, or even pronounce as flaws. On that score, I do find myself more consistent than Murray in that I wouldn’t put Red Label and Blue Label anywhere close to each other, except on a mere listing of JW products. If Murray is rating thousands of whiskies over and over again, would it be possible for him to rate these two correctly once?
P.S.: Although I’d be the first to agree that Murray’s opinions WILL invariably lose him money and sales as people become more familiar with those opinions (and with whisky), I ‘d still like to know how he’s cost himself money by “taking on scotch” instead of just capitalizing on the controversy that he intentionally creates by doing so.
If you’d read the Bible recently you’d know the answer. Lots of shops in Scotland refuse to stock his book. He didn’t benefit from making a Japanese whisky world whisky of the year, because the book is unavailable in Japan. Maybe his sales in Canada might go up, but the previous years result proves it is not his prime motivator.
You are basing your dislike of him on the basis of a couple of ratings on blends, out of a book that contains thousands. I find the vitriol towards him on this page curious. I’ve used his book for years and whilst it has flaws here and there, it’s provided me with far more hits than misses. There’s plenty I disagree with him on, but one thing I do know is that he has years more experience and knowledge of whisky than I do, so I can at least tip my hat to that level of experience rather than pompously proclaim myself to being his superior based on the fact I disagree with a few of his ratings. Maybe you are wrong and he is right? You seem certain he is wrong. That’s why I like Jim. He challenges himself with each rating. He puts aside the heritage, the age statement, the brand, where JW place it in their roster, and rates it purely on it’s flaws and merits, bullshit aside. Then he makes a judgement and stands by it, where others would backtrack and change, if they thought it was unorthodox.
Sales in individual countries might not be his prime motivator, but I’d still argue that controversy in itself is, and there’s no quicker way to generate that than to say that scotch has lost its way. Maybe Murray’s guide wouldn’t do all that well in Scotland anyway, because there are too many people there who drink scotch and have more ready access to some of the whiskies he’s talking about. Does what he says cost him sales Scotland? Maybe, but does that matter to his bottom line if his sales are enhanced by controversy in North America and elsewhere?
If he can’t really distinguish Red Label from Blue in terms of quality (let alone the “stellar” quality of Black Grouse) as a straight experience, I just don’t give him the benefit of the doubt with thousands of other whiskies that I have no way of checking anyway; Murray’s status and experience don’t matter to me on this score, and I’d dismiss any amateur blogger on the same basis. I find the defense of Murray curious when you will neither confirm nor deny that he can’t even get two common JW products right; again, did he get them right or wrong here? As a further point, does it seem even remotely possible to you that the Crown Royal was equal to the best whisky he tried all year, let alone equal in quality to any whisky that he’s ever tried? The world awaits your answers.
Murray has more whisky experience than you and I put together, but it didn’t seem to help him on this issue and, as is seen time and again, some of the people who know whisky best spend some of the least time telling the truth about whisky.
You must admit though, Ed that is strains credibility to believe that the Crown Royal was the best whisky he tasted in 2015. That leads one to assume there must be some other motive for such a choice.
Thanks for a legit review. I’m not a rye drinker, haven’t been since embarrassing myself in grade ten, so this product is largely irrelevant to me. I confess to always keeping a bottle of Crown Royal around for the rye drinkers that may come by even though I really should refer to it as “rye” whiskey. But I live an hour south of Gimli, so it’s a local thing anyway.
I had to check and it’s pretty much sold out throughout Manitoba, go figure. But they’ve been flogging whisky in general since Halloween ended as THE gift for Christmas. Murray’s announcement is just kerosene on top.
But hey, it’s a distinct step up on Canadian Club, right? Or 5-star? Yum.
I think there is a bit of a rush to judgement here, I mean really people, we shouldn’t judge Jim Murray without getting into his head to uncover how he could make such a pick? So to be fair, earlier this year I had a piñata of Jim Murray’s head commissioned to answer this question.
When I presented this replica Jim Murray to a small group of passive whisky enthusiasts, the first thing I noticed was the vicious response when offered the opportunity to beat down on this iconic figure, kind of a Lord of the Flies thing.
The second thing noticed was a total lack of sweetness, I mean when you have a piñata you would expect some candy treat, but in this case none was found, one could say Jim Murray is tasteless & bitter.
The third thing I noticed was the lack of brains, I mean really there were no brains at all, after we cracked his head open all we found filling the cavity was cheap liquor.
Although this wasn’t a fully sanctioned scientific experiment, I would however conclude that Jim Murray is not a loved man; he is tasteless & sour and lacks the brains to make any real pick for whisky of the year.
Thinking of making a David Beckham piñata next, need discover the reason behind his dram of choice.
I think you mean Beckham’s choice of the highest bidder’s dram, Maltmonster.
I see this is now “sold out” across the province of BC.
We should be thankful he didn’t pick one of the better Canadian Ryes, like Lot 40 or Forty Creek. Otherwise they would have become unavailable to those of us that enjoy sipping them.
There’s still no problem getting CC 100% Rye and Alberta Premium, which will work just as well in cocktails as Jim Murray’s supposed WWOTY, so no loss here.
Speaking about 40 Creek, why is it 10 dollars cheaper (the 3 grain Harmony) than in Ontario where it was produced?
Taxes, I would suppose… or they realized that once the devoted geeks who hoovered it up on whisky weekend realized it wasn’t up to par they wouldn’t be able to sell it at $70
For a wide range of… opinion on this whisky, and Jim Murray, check out: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/crown-royal-northern-harvest-rye-best-whisky-of-2015-1.3341945
Jim Murray cares about Jim Murray and being a whisky-lebrity. I’ve met the guy twice the first time socially the second at one of his tastings, frankly he came across both times as not sincere.
My brother and I walked-out of the tasting, two hours had passed and we’d tasted a grand total of two whiskies, he went on and on about his elaborate nosing and tasting procedures then a bunch of stories about his travels to all over the world most of it not even pertaining to the glasses on the table.
Quite a direct contrast to Charlie Maclean who actually doesn’t say too much about what he’s nosing and tasting he’s more interested and genuinely so I might all in what the attendees have to say. His tastings move along at a good pace, the man is a wealth of information and an excellent storyteller mostly because it’s not about him more about characters in the industry many unsung, the Coopers and the Warehousers.
Moreover Jim Murray does not have the respect of his peers, at least the one’s I’ve shared a glass with, nor of many in the industry that in and of itself speaks loud and clear.
Great review bud. And thanks for letting us know the truth. The only reason I’m going to hunt this whisky down is to see how far removed from sanity this guy is. I’m guessing pretty damn far.
Thanks, Tabarek. Let me know if you have issues finding it. Cheers!
I had to post this review (URL) on The Mapleleaf Lounge (Whisky,Whisky,Whisky Forum). Well said!
The LCBO (or Diagio) flew this idiot in to the Flagship Summerhill store to sign some crap. Hopefully they gifted him one of the 6 Brora 35 year SM’s that they have in stock there as a thank you.
I was lucky enough to win a bottle of his runner up WLW BTAC in the LCBO Lottery and have no doubt I will enjoy that more than the CRNHR recently put on sale for $30 at the LCBO 🙂